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A Brighter Sun Summary

A Brighter Sun is a coming-of-age novel by Caribbean writer Sam Selvon, first published in 1952. It describes the marriage and early adulthood of Tiger, who lives in Trinidad, which sees a unique blend of Creole, Indian, and English cultures. At age 16, Tiger marries Urmilla. Upon their marriage, he gets a mud hut in Baratria, where he first works as a farmer. Then, the American military arrives to build a highway through the farms on which Tiger has worked. Rather than protest, Tiger agrees to become a construction worker on the project. He makes an effort to learn English and communicate well in order to advance his social status. He and his wife Urmilla (and eventually their daughter) belong to the lower class, and he envies his neighbors, Joe and Rita, whose brick house has electricity and running water.

One day, Tiger invites his American bosses over for dinner, but gets drunk and later beats his pregnant wife. His wife becomes ill, and Tiger tries to find a doctor for her. An Indian and Creole doctor both refuse to treat her, but an English doctor agrees. This represents a turning point for Tiger's cultural understanding. Tiger's son by Urmilla is delivered a still-born; however, the now mature Tiger is undaunted by his circumstances, and begins the construction of a new house, aided by his friends and neighbors.

Summary

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Because A Brighter Sun opens with a catalog of events, both local and international (and repeats this device subsequently), it might be approached as a quasihistorical narrative; however, this technique places the characters, their actions, and aspirations in social perspective, counterpointing major and minor happenings and emphasizing the concerns of the ordinary struggling individual. World events are distant; local and personal concerns dominate the characters’ lives.

The arrangement of the novel into twelve chapters suggests the form of the epic, with its hero battling against great odds, and the title (like that of Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 The Sun Also Rises) intimates the possibility of amelioration, of the dawn of a new era, of the potential for achievement. The novel is clearly a bildungsroman, a story of the maturation of a youthful hero who sets goals for himself and overcomes disappointments and setbacks; furthermore, it is in the tradition of the social realist novel that depicts a section of working-class life in detail and with sympathy. Tiger, though disappointed in life, nevertheless adopts a mature philosophy: He rejects a return to his family’s village and life on the sugarcane estate or a departure from Trinidad for either America or India in favor of making a life for his family in Barataria’s multiethnic community. That is, he rejects a return to the past and accepts a modern social attitude.

Rather than being merely the record of the first five years of Tiger’s married life, the novel is a study of changing mores in Trinidad (and hence the West Indies), with Tiger as a metonymic character, one who represents the larger community. The plot is chronological, though only half the novel concerns Tiger himself: The rest consists of episodes from others’ lives that provide Tiger with material for his growth.

The marriage of Tiger and Urmilla (he did not even know the name of his arranged-marriage bride before the wedding) was for the Chaguanas district “the biggest thing to happen, bigger than the war,” for Tiger, a nonreligious Hindu, had accepted his ethnic imperatives to maintain the cohesiveness of the Indian community. Immediately, however, the new couple moves to Barataria, which both physically and symbolically represents a break with tradition, for it is a newly constructed, distant, mixed community. Tiger’s father, Baboolal, provides Tiger’s new mud hut and land—but no furnishings. Tiger, though still boyish, thinks that marriage has made him a man; nevertheless, he smokes, drinks, and abuses his wife in the belief that these are necessary indications of masculinity.

(The entire section is 1,920 words.)